Over the Hedge

 

Do you remember the TV series Wings, an ensemble comedy set in a small airport? The show, which ran on NBC back in the ’90s, was fashioned in the style of Taxi and Cheers, but lacked that special something that made those shows memorable. Wings wasn’t a bad show by any means. It was serviceable, but unexceptional. So why did it stay on the air year after year? Because even though it paled in the shadow of shows like Cheers, it was still better than most of the crap passing for comedy on the tube. Over the Hedge is the Wings of computer-animated family-friendly comedies. The Dreamworks feature has none of the magic of films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, but compared to recent offerings like Chicken Little or The Wild, it looks pretty good. If that sounds like I’m damning the movie with faint praise, well, thanks for noticing. Over the Hedge, an adaptation of a comic strip, has everything you would expect in an OK-but-nothing-special computer-animated comedy. There are plenty of adorable talking animals that look like they came right off the shelves of a toy store. Do all CGI critters have to resemble plush toys come to life? I guess so. Of course, the voices for the animals are provided by celebrities. The roster this time includes Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Thomas Haden Church, Allison Janney, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Avril Lavigne and Omid Djalili. Best of the bunch is The Office’s Steve Carell, one of the few celebrities who actually alters his voice to fit the character he plays. The story, such as it is, goes like this. RJ the raccoon (Willis) has one week to replace the cache of junk food he stole from Vincent the bear (Nolte) or else. To get the job done, he cons a group of other animals to help him sneak over the hedge (if by “over” you mean “through”) to snag goodies from the humans living in the suburbs. One of the humans (Janney) gets upset enough to hire an exterminator (Church) to stop the invasion. So there you go. The film is packed with one-liners and slapstick gags. Most of the jokes seemed to tickle the kids at the screening I attended. They particularly liked the naughty-bits humor, which now appears to be a standard part of children’s entertainment (my generation, having grown up in less enlightened times, was forced to get their poop jokes from the playground instead of the cinema). Most of the slapstick is amusing, and a few of the stunts are even … imaginatively staged! Apparently, any computer-animated movie must have a message (I wonder if the CGI kiddy movie handbook is commercially available) and this production is determined to hammer home the importance of family. In fact, though they use the word “family” (again and again and again), I believe they really mean “community,” as the family that is repeatedly referred to consists of a turtle, a squirrel, a skunk and some possums and porcupines. I could be wrong, but if that menagerie really considers itself a family, they better be careful, because some cartoon Republicans may try to pass a law against them. But I digress. Even though Over the Hedge clocks in at only 84 minutes, it throws in a couple (maybe even three) montages set to lightweight Ben Folds songs. They add nothing to the movie, but they didn’t seem to stir up much restlessness with the young’uns. And that’s what this movie is all about: entertaining America without stirring things up too much with innovations or inventiveness. Over the Hedge should make a fortune. After all, Wings ran for seven seasons.

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